We are all doing it. The generation caught between grown children suddenly producing grandchildren and the need to attend to our aging parents. I am an exception in that I buried my parents many years to soon and my children have yet to grace me with grandchildren. But so many of us are in this transition stage of life.
I listen to the women I meet in the store who are juggling the role of grandmother, and yes, they can’t wait to spend a moment with that incredible new little being; they can then hand it off to its rightful caregiver, because they have earned those moments of total love between something so innocent and precious.
I also watch Wilson struggle with his own battle to let his mother grow into her declining state, and still do everything in his power to delay her ultimate demise. He has learned to accept so much reverse responsibility. This is the person who wiped your butt and now needs you to coördinate your schedule around their bodily functions.
“Ma, I have to finish doing my laundry can you wait ’til we get home?”
“No Son, bring me a clean diaper, I can use the restroom at the laundromat.”
“So I’m walking across the parking lot with an adult diaper in my hand thinking, my life must be over, right?” “What happened to Woodstock and Vietnam and all our dreams as a generation?!!” Wilson laments.
His ability to adapt to the rhythms that are her last years or days surprise me as much as his outbreaks of resistance. This is what life is handing you at the moment and there will come a day when you will give your left arm to change her diaper and have one more word, one more intimate touch you never knew was important.
“She’s like my old dog, Tuffy.” he proclaimed as he came up the walk tonight. “She sleeps all the time but at least unlike Tuffy she doesn’t make funny noises all day. She just sleeps.”
Between cat naps, Mary thanks him for his kindness, no matter if they are cutting wood or fixing lawn tractors, or doing his laundry; she is with her son and not alone in some institution. The key to “Elder Care 101” is no one wants to become obsolete and cast off to the side; to be “visited” on Sundays and treated as a fossil. Integrate, deal with the intimate details and move on.
These nights, when I know Wilson just needs an “adult” break, a time when he can spew and rant, and sometimes listen to my ranting spew about life, Mary spends her time sleeping in the car. It’s not the same as having a baby or a dog, because the reality is the close, innocuous space of the car is more comfortable than a hospital bed or a lazy-boy recliner, her other two options. Before you judge Wilson, understand that he has taken on the responsibility for a “new born” in the shape of his mother. He can’t coddle and grow her into anything. She is actively dying (not the technical, medical, hospice term for active perhaps) and he is keeping her with him, every minute, every hour. When his departure time, to pick up the sushi take-out dinner we agreed to share, is delayed because Mary suddenly declared the needed for a bowel movement, understandably he is rattled.
A hurried meal is eaten standing, so we can glimpse out the window at the car regularly. When dinner was over, I walked out with Wilson to say goodnight to Mary. She is tiny, a shrunken “candy wrapper” as my sister would say, of who she was just a year ago when she turned 85 on the 4th of July. But her hands are warm, she is loving and calm.
He muddles through somehow. We all do and what some see as heroic, others see as blindingly dull. Perspective is key in life and elder care.